I think I can speak for the majority of people when I say 2020 is not a year anyone wants to repeat. The toll this year has brought to individuals, families, businesses, communities, and countries has been heavy on several different fronts. The economic health, mental health, and physical health of the world have been strenuous at least and catastrophic at worst. And as we wrap up an exhausting year, the effects of the pandemic can still be clearly observed. Many are still distanced from loved ones, and financial hardships create a difficult holiday season.
There is room for gratitude. James Autry, a former Fortune 500 executive, asserts that gratitude is a choice. In his book Choosing Gratitude, Autry describes gratitude as “a deeply ingrained aspect of our consciousness, an attitude, a condition that, when learned and practiced, becomes fundamental to our being” (Autry, 2012, p. 1). In other words, gratitude is not a behavior; it is a state of being.
True, reciting phrases like “thank you” and “I appreciate it” are gratitude behaviors. But are we saying those phrases because it’s polite and the culturally appropriate thing to say? Or do we truly feel gratitude deep within us? Do we still feel feel gratitude when someone disappoints us? Or when we’re having financial hardships? Or we tested positive for COVID?
Having a spirit of gratitude doesn’t imply we are grateful only when life is going good for us. Gratitude, as a state of being, is being grateful even in life’s lowest points.
Gratitude is not about ourselves.
The truth is we live in a world and a culture which idolizes the self. We worry about others think about us; how we look to others; the image we portray on social media; the persona we want our families to see; and the fact someone wronged us in some way. There are hundreds of examples of how we turn inward to the self instead of outward to others. However, embracing a spirit of gratitude is about others.
When we let go of ourselves and what we think we deserve or are owed, we have the opportunity to express complete gratitude for what we have. Research has consistently found that people who embody gratitude are less likely to suffer the effects of anxiety and depression. In fact, early studies in neuropsychology are finding that people who practice gratitude actually rewire their brains to think and process information positively, which lead to gratitude behaviors. In other words, gratitude breeds more gratitude!
Creating a gratitude inventory.
Yes, this year has been hard. And for some, finding room for gratitude may be very difficult. But both James Autry and I encourage you to consider creating a gratitude inventory this holiday season. Write down in paragraph form what you are grateful for and why. Don’t forget the why; the why is important. When we dig deeper and focus on why we are grateful, we engage not only our mind, but our heart and soul.
James Autry’s gratitude inventory includes the following:
- For one thing and another
- For family
- For friends
- For matters of the spirit
- For those who serve
- For the pain of life
DeAnne’s gratitude inventory includes the following:
- For family
- For warm fireplaces
- For close friends who understand you
- For pets
- For learning opportunities
- For my Lord and Savior
- For struggles and tribulations
Alan’s gratitude inventory includes the following:
- For a loving, fun, and tight family in Julie and Mara
- For having the joy of a career that can make a positive difference in the world
- For technology that makes so much possible – connecting, being entertained, and doing crossword puzzles
- For decent enough health to hike, have energy, and eat most of what I want to eat
- For opportunities to serve in my community
- For DeAnne, of course!
As we end 2020…
Instead of dwelling on the negatives, think about what you love and what you’re grateful for this year. Challenge yourself to dig deeper and learn to embody a spirit of gratitude in all things.
Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for 2021!